PThU to launch major research project on relationship between Christian faith and soil

1 June 2023

This September, the Protestant Theological University will be launching a five-year research project on the relationship between Christian faith and soil. Researchers involved in the project will engage in theological reflection on the value and meaning of soil, specifically in light of climate and ecological issues. They will do this together with Christian farmers and faith communities and various knowledge institutions and social partners. Part of the project is a large-scale quantitative study in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute for Social Research. 

Why this project?

It is estimated that half of the farmers in the Netherlands have a Christian background. Many churches also own land themselves: around the church building, parking spaces, cemeteries and agricultural land that they lease to farmers. Not to mention the land owned and managed by church members. Together, this means there are many reasons why Christians and churches have an interest land issues, such as the worrying quality of a large portion of the farmland in Europe, the current agricultural debate and the new lease law. Little is known about the role of  faith  in how Christians treat the land they inhabit and cultivate. Christian faith communities also tend to have a view of land in which theology and religion do not play a significant role. 

The PThU project will contribute to the development of a responsible theological perspective on soil in light of climate and ecological issues. It will do so first of all by identifying how Christians currently deal with land and which beliefs play a role in this. The project will additionally develop a guide that can offer a path towards a view of soil and land that is not only theologically responsible, but economically and socially responsible as well.

Why this focus on soil and land?

The focus on ‘soil and land’ makes issues related to the climate and ecology concrete. Soil is the earth you can hold in your hands, but also pieces of farmland. It is based on physical substance and thus keeps us away from solely abstract thinking. Land is also a connector: all people live on land and depend on it for survival. Land provides a basis for mutual dialogue between believers, non-believers, theologians and other experts. Lastly, the project starts with soil, and not with humans. In doing so, it focuses on humans’ connection to all non-human creatures. After all, these creatures all live on, in or off the land. 

Collaboration with farmers, faith communities and other stakeholders

The project is collaborative: we will work with farmers, faith communities, church stewards, deacons, pastors and local land stakeholders. We will do this in four sub-projects:

  • Christian farmers: how does faith play a role on their property and in the way they farm the land? 
  • Christian faith communities: which values and perspectives promote a responsible theological view of land, and which ones hinder this?
  • Sustainable management of church-owned leased land: what are good practices of faith-inspired sustainable land management?
  • Pastors: what are their views on land, what notions and perspectives are part of this and what biblical and other sources do they draw from?

Different theological and non-theological disciplines will collaborate within the sub-projects to answer the central question of the entire project. Collaboration with stakeholders is a promising approach, as it provides insight into which religious beliefs do or do not matter to them when it comes to their connection with the land. By working on new experiments with land, the study will also yield concrete examples that could catch on with others. For instance, Christians and Christian faith communities can be inspiring leaders and allies for various social sustainability initiatives that are currently aiming to create communities of people who want to take care of the land.


The PThU will conduct the research in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute for Social Research and Wageningen University and Research (WUR). Aeres University of Applied Sciences in Dronten is the intended research partner. The Maatschappij van Welstand is prominent social partner in the project. The project will be carried out by four PhD candidates and a team of senior researchers.